A group of businesspeople, restaurant owners and tourism operators in St. John's are calling on the federal government to encourage domestic travel again, after more than a year of travel bans and restrictions.
At a media conference held outside Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vidi Village on Tuesday, group member Todd Perrin said it's time for Canadians to return to visiting Newfoundland and Labrador.
"Local businesses are suffering unnecessarily because of confusion and uncertainty over how safe domestic travel is," said Perrin, Mallard Cottage's owner and chef.
On July 1, Newfoundland and Labrador began allowing visitors to enter the province without self-isolating, as long as they are fully vaccinated or partially vaccinated with a negative PCR COVID-19 test.
The province is lifting more restrictions later this summer as part of its reopening plan, but the group, part of the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, wants more consistency in regulations across the country; each province has its own rules for travel and visitors, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently said each province will also be able to decide whether to use vaccine passports for domestic travel.
The group is asking the federal government to create a "comprehensive" plan to encourage travel within Canada. What that plan would look like is unclear, but the group wants Trudeau to personally encourage Canadians to begin travelling again.
Although more than 80 per cent of eligible Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, just over 30 per cent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated.
AnnMarie Boudreau, CEO of the St. John's Board of Trade, said that businesses in the tourism industry have taken steps to modify operations and protect visitor safety.
"Businesses have done their part. But now it's time for government to stand up and do theirs," she said.
More support needed
Although business owners appreciate the support of local community members, Perrin said, they need tourists from outside the province in order to stay afloat.
"The only solution to our issues are for people to start moving again."
Members of the group say the inconsistent regulations across the country can cause potential tourists to feel hesitant to travel.
"We need, really, a consistent plan across the country, so that people feel that it's safe to travel," said Cathy Duke, CEO of Destination St. John's.
Right now, Perrin pointed out, it varies across the country.
"The regatta is not going ahead but the Calgary Stampede is. So there's a dichotomy in that that I think people need to reckon with," he said. "We need to look across the country and have a message that is clear: what is safe and why it's safe, and grey areas are really going to be things that are going to significantly impact the ability for the tourism sector to rebound from this."
Barry Roger, owner of tour operator Iceberg Quest, said while his own business is beginning to rebound, he wants to see more support from the government for the tourism industry.
"The threat of of loss, it's it's enormous," Rogers said.